Furs You Can’t Sell: what to do with vintage endangered animal fur clothing

Oh my God don't make coats from these cuties.

What do you do with a vintage fur item when it turns out that it is from an endangered or protected animal?

I’ve provided this as a reference to try and help people brought here by my two previous vintage fur posts, Grandma’s Vintage Fur: Is It Valuable? (general overview) and Selling Grandma’s Vintage Fur (sale focused advice). There are no comments available on this post. If I had any information, it’s in here. If you decide you want to contact a local museum (more info on that here) or wildlife refuge about your fur item, you are in a better position to do that than I am, because I am in New Zealand. The links further in this article may help you.

We are going to look at endangered and protected animal furs by type, and with citations to the legal bodies saying you can’t sell them.

Cat, Bear, and Primate Furs

You cannot sell vintage items in any of these furs, thanks to CITES – Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. CITES says that you cannot deal in furs from all primates (monkeys and gorillas), all big cats, and all bears.  You also can’t deal in elephant or rhinoceros skin or horns. Some cat furs from smaller cats (bobcat and lynx) can be traded within a country, but not internationally, and you’ll find that most resellers will refuse to touch anything from a big cat. And rightly so.

Seal Furs

Seal furs are more complicated, and I’ve been fielding a lot of questions about seal furs in particular. Only Southern hemisphere fur seals are covered by CITES. Northern fur seal furs – ones from Alaska and Canada are the ones I get asked about most often – are not directly banned by CITES. And, after the extensive maritime fur trade, there are lots of vintage seal furs floating around.  There has been a lot of publicity about restrictions to the harp seal fur trade, particularly the European ban on “whiteskin” baby harp seals.

Can you resell a vintage seal fur in Europe? Short answer: No. Definitely not, unless you are Inuit and it is an Inuit cultural item. In Europe, seal furs cannot be sold or traded unless they have been hunted “only where the seal products result from hunts traditionally conducted by Inuit and other indigenous communities and contribute to their subsistence.” Read the fine print in the link there, it would allow you to take a fur coat that you inherited from another country back into Europe for your own personal use. Russia recently shut down their seal fur importing and hunting. Significantly, I searched for seal fur items on UK Ebay and found fewer than 15, and of those five were mangy, three were misidentified mink, and two more were waiting to get pulled off for including cat fur.

Can you resell a vintage seal fur in the United States? Short answer: No.  In the US, fur seal hunting is specifically banned with, again, exceptions for indigenous people. So no new furs are being produced. The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 followed this up with further protections prohibiting the “transport, purchase, sale, or offer to sell any marine animal, including parts and products.” Fur is specifically defined as a part or product. The Marine Mammal Protection Act is enforced with $100,000 minimum fines, and nobody wants to go to court defending a $50 Victorian sealskin muff. Despite this, there were a handful of Victorian seal fur items on Etsy at very low prices (under $200) and even though  all marine mammal furs are banned on US eBay, though again, a handful of items were posted.

Canada seems to be a last outpost of seal fur hunting and selling. Again, marine mammal furs are banned on Canadian eBay, but they seem to be legal for furriers, so, it can be inferred that Canada is also the last outpost of selling your vintage seal fur items.

It took me about half a day to sort all of this out, and I might still be wrong. But if you’ve been confused about what you could do with a vintage seal fur, you weren’t alone. Unrelated to legality, many vintage seal, otter, and beaver furs share a problem: they haven’t held up very well and their quality tends to decline markedly with wear. So on the rare occasions they are sold, they don’t sell for very good prices.

The Definitive List of Unsellable Vintage Endangered Furs

Unsellable vintage furs from endangered or protected animals in 2015 include:

      • Leopard fur
      • Tiger fur
      • Ocelot fur
      • Cheetah fur
      • Bear fur
      • Gorilla fur
      • Monkey fur (all kinds)
      • Seal fur (unless you’re in Canada)
      • Sea otter fur (it’s a marine mammal)

Note that other fur types, vintage or new, may be banned from sale/trade in your country, state, or even city.

If You Can’t Sell It, What Can You Do?

You have three, maybe four options:

      • Donate the item to a museum that has a natural history or fashion/costume collection – I’ve put together a focused post about how to donate garments to museums. In the USA, you can get a tax credit if your item is accepted. You must contact the museums first to see if they will take your item – you cannot just show up and dump it there. It is also helpful if you have “provenance” – write down stories of how the item was acquired and used, and include photographs of it being worn, if you can. Here is a good example of a sealskin coat with a family story in a museum – the excellent quality of the coat, and the social context of the story, made it more worthy of the museum’s collection.
      • Contact local wildlife refuges or zoos to see if they can use the item as an educational tool or to console baby animals – In the USA there’s a charity that accepts coats nationwide and sends them to wildlife refuges, Cuddle Coats. You can also contact your local wildlife refuge or zoo directly. And educational re-use has led to a happy ending for one ocelot coat, chronicled here. Again, this may lead to a tax credit for you in the USA.
      • Keep it – The related laws do seem to allow endangered animal items that are inherited to be retained and passed down within a family – you can even travel with such items with the right documentation.
      • For seal furs from Alaska and Canada, you might be able to gift them to indigenous craft groups for re-use. This idea is based on the way indigenous bird feathers are handled in New Zealand by the Department of Conservation.

Final Thoughts on Value and Furs

You may be reading this article because you were hoping to salvage some dollars or euros out of a vintage fur that your family treasured, only to find that you have very few options. Items are economically valuable because people desire them. An item is not economically valuable if you can’t sell it and people find it sad and revolting. So not only are CITES and related laws removing value from endangered/protected animal furs, their social value has vanished as well. Endangered animal furs have become devalued in the marketplace as the living animals and their environments become ever rarer and more valued – as they should have been in the first place.

Related links: